Interview with Maurice Roberts


Interview with Maurice Roberts


Born in Manchester, he was 20 years old in 1940 when he joined up and volunteered for aircrew. He trained in South Africa, Canada (Moncton and Trenton), the Unites States (Lakeland), and was torpedoed in the Atlantic on his way back. Maurice flew Tiger Moths, Oxfords, Wellingtons, and Halifaxes. After being stationed at a Heavy Conversion Unit at RAF Lossiemouth, he was posted to 51 Squadron at RAF Snaith. He recollects operations to Essen, Cologne, Ludwigshafen and Chemnitz, mentioning 8-hour trips made possible by amphetamines ('Wakey-wakey' pills), heavy anti-aircraft fire, FIDO, and bomb-struck aircraft. On another occasion they were diverted to a Lincolnshire airfield for which they had not got the maps and couldn’t locate it. Having resigned to the fact that they would have to set a course out over the North Sea and then bale out, at the last moment Maurice spotted a light on the airfield and was able to land safely. They once had to land with a 2000 lb bomb still on board, which his crew considered the best landing he had ever done. In May 1945, he did 12 operations for bomb disposal in the North Sea, taking off from RAF Driffield. In June, with 10 Squadron and a new crew at RAF Melbourne, he flew C-47s training for operations on Japan, then was posted to the Far East. While stationed in Karachi, Maurice dropped supplies in the jungle. Demobilised in 1946, he pursued a career in engineering retiring as a manager – Maurice maintains that wartime service helped built his character. He stayed in touch with other 51 Squadron veterans through their association. In addition to his decorations, he was awarded the Legion of Honour.







00:54:47 audio recording


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ARobertsM200219, PRobertsM2001


HB: This is an interview with Maurice Roberts whose service number is 1095576, who was a sergeant pilot and later a pilot officer during the Second World War with, he did his operational tour with 51 Squadron. The interview is being conducted by me, Harry Bartlett on behalf of the International Bomber Command Centre at Mr Robert’s home address on Wednesday the 19th of February and the time now is 11:15. Mr Roberts, or can I call you Maurice?
MR: Yeah. Maurice.
HB: Thanks ever so much for agreeing to this interview. It’s, it’s a pleasure to be here to do this with you. We’ve had a bit of a chat before the interview so I’ve got a fair idea and I’ve obviously got your logbook but before we get to the actual war can you just, would you mind just telling us just a bit about yourself Maurice?
MR: Yeah.
HB: Where were you born?
MR: I was born in Manchester actually. And when I was twenty years of age I joined the RAF. That was in 1940.
HB: Yeah.
MR: When I joined the RAF. I never went back to Manchester because I met my, we used to, I was flying at which is now an industrial estate, was a flying field at Braunstone and I was flying Tiger Moths there. Met my wife and we got married in ’45 after I finished my tour and I, you know I’d known her for many years, but I decided that I wouldn’t marry. We wouldn’t get married until I finished my tour. So we married in ’45. So we’ve been married seventy five years now.
HB: Wow.
MR: And I went to South Africa. After I, after I’d met her and we became friends I went to South Africa and did my EFTS and SFTS there.
HB: Can I, can I just stop there Maurice?
MR: Yeah.
HB: When you, when you were in Manchester.
MR: Yes.
HB: Obviously you, obviously you were part of a family.
MR: Yes.
HB: What, how big a family did you come from?
MR: Well, there were five children. I was the latest one out of the five. They’re all dead now. And my eldest sister who was the first was twenty years older than me.
HB: Wow.
MR: And I have a niece now who’s over ninety, still living in Manchester. I’m in touch with her by telephone and I’ve been to see her, and we get on well together. We have a big family out there.
HB: Yeah.
MR: But I’ve no family here in Leicester.
HB: Yeah. What about schooling Maurice?
MR: Well, I went to Manchester Central High School, a grammar school and I was, I was a scholarship boy.
HB: Right.
HB: I was a bit out of my depth really socially because they were all fee paying members of this school and I was a scholarship boy.
HB: Right.
HB: And there was two of us actually who’d got to school, eleven plus. And, I presume I did very well in the eleven plus and I went to this school. But I didn’t go to university. I left at fifteen and got a job and started work really.
HB: What, what did you do for a job before the war then Maurice?
MR: Well, before the war I was, I was in, I worked for a firm called Salford Electrical Instruments. They were part of GEC.
HB: Right.
MR: It was a reserved occupation, but because I volunteered for aircrew I could get out of this, this you know being a reserved occupation. So I, and I left. Left the firm.
HB: So, yeah what was your process then for, because obviously you’re in a reserved occupation and you’ve decided you want to do your bit, or you want to join the Air Force, I presume? So what was your process for joining?
MR: Process? Well, I —
HB: How did you come to join?
MR: Well, I just wanted to, you know. Young men did.
HB: Yeah.
MR: And I went to the Recruiting Office and said I wanted to join. I wanted to go into aircrew and they accepted me.
HB: Right. Right.
MR: Twenty years old and I was only a clerk actually in this firm of Salford Electrical Instruments.
HB: So, so you’ve gone down and you’ve joined the RAF.
MR: Yes.
HB: Right. And you’ve, you’ve got to do some training somewhere.
MR: Right. And my first training was at Babbacombe. Well, I joined up. Seven days I spent at Warrington.
HB: Right.
MR: Where you got a uniform and all that but what they call Initial Training Wing, ITW, I went to Babbacombe near, near Bournemouth.
HB: Yeah.
MR: And I was about, there about six weeks, I think.
HB: Is that, was that you all square bashing?
MR: That’s right.
HB: And marching and all that sort of thing.
MR: Yeah, and getting our, yes there was no flying. It was just —
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
MR: It was just as you say square bashing.
HB: Yeah. And then you went from Babbacombe. Did you do an assessment for flying or —
MR: No. I, no I had a medical exam.
HB: Yeah.
MR: And I had an interview by several men. About five I think. I was interviewed for aircrew and they asked me questions like, ‘What is seventeen multiplied by thirteen?’ And I had to think about it in my head, what the, what the answer was, you know. Mentally.
HB: Yeah.
MR: And then they found, obviously they found out I was pretty, my mental ability was quite good and they, I, I passed the exam.
HB: Right.
MR: I had a medical exam apart from that. That was sort of to see that you were quick mentally I suppose.
HB: Yeah. So, so where, where did you, where did you progress from there after your interview? You’ve obviously been accepted for aircrew training.
MR: Yeah.
HB: At what stage did it become apparent you were going to be training as a pilot?
MR: Well [pause] well, at ITW. They were all potential pilots at ITW. Had the little flashes in your beret.
HB: Right.
MR: A little, little white flash in your beret so that you were, you were potential aircrew people.
HB: Right. And you went from the initial training wing, the ITW —
MR: Yes. I went to Canada first of all. To Canada.
HB: How did you get to Canada?
MR: Well, we went by ship.
HB: Wow, from, from —
MR: From, well the Gourock in Scotland. Gourock, I think.
HB: Right. Right. So you go off to Canada.
MR: Yeah. And then from Canada down to Florida.
HB: Yeah.
MR: And I had some training with a civilian because they weren’t at war then. The Americans weren’t. And I had, and I spent some time flying with the Americans. Didn’t go very well though and we came back via Canada. Had to go back to Canada and then I came back to this country.
HB: Yeah.
MR: And I had this Braunstone Aerodrome where I met my wife. My potential wife.
HB: Yeah. So when, when, when you first went to Canada did you go to one of the flying schools there?
MR: No.
HB: Before you went to Florida.
MR: No, no no. I went to just outside of Toronto.
HB: So you went to Toronto first.
MR: Yes. And then, and then from there to America.
HB: So just within a matter of weeks.
HB: That’s right. Yeah.
HB: You were off down to America. Yeah.
MR: And they were all civilian. Civilian pilots.
HB: Yeah.
MR: The instructors were civilians. And nobody was in, it was an American Air Force base but they were civilians who were, who were instructing you to fly.
HB: Right. What sort of aircraft were you flying Maurice?
MR: Well, the PT17s they were. They were like a Tiger Moth. Overgrown Tiger Moths they were.
HB: Yeah. Yeah. So you were down there learning your flying skills.
MR: Yes.
HB: And you said it didn’t go all that well.
MR: Well, they used to curse and swear and things like that, you know. So some of us went, went, some, I have a friend who was an air commodore. He died only last year actually. Lived in Glenfield, and we used to play golf together and he, he was there too and he went on the Empire training. He went to Canada to train. He went from Canada to Florida. Then from Florida went back to Canada and was trained in Canada flying. Real, real flying in Canada where I went, I came home and went to South Africa.
HB: Yeah. So, so when you did your basic flying training in America.
MR: Yes.
HB: Whereabouts in America was that?
MR: In Lakeland. A place called Lakeland in Florida.
HB: In Florida.
MR: Lakeland. Yeah.
HB: Right. And that was all in civilian clothes.
MR: They were. Yeah.
HB: Yeah.
MR: They hadn’t gone to war then.
HB: Yeah. And then you went back to Canada. Did you do any flying training in Canada?
MR: No. No. I didn’t. No.
HB: None at all.
MR: No. No. I went to a place called Moncton.
HB: Yeah.
MR: Under canvas.
HB: Oh blimey.
MR: Below, under forty degrees. Ten degree temperatures. Terrible. And then I came back to England and I did some more flying in, as I say Braunstone Aerodrome which is now an industrial estate. Braunstone isn’t, is no longer an aerodrome. But in 19 — I forget what year it was I met my wife in a tea dance.
HB: Right. I’m just curious. When you went [coughs] you went to Moncton and Trenton.
MR: Yeah.
HB: From, well according to your book —
MR: Well, Trenton —
HB: You were only there [pause] you were only there for two months.
MR: I forget what Trenton was really.
HB: Yeah.
MR: The name sounds familiar but it’s a long time ago. I don’t know why I was at, I remember Moncton but Trenton I don’t.
HB: In, in your, in your logbook it says something like if I’m looking at this right Riccall. R I C C A L L.
MR: R I C P?
HB: Ah. Could be P. Yes. Could be P.
MR: I don’t know.
HB: And that’s, yeah. Yeah. Yeah. It just, it just sort of, just for two months.
MR: Yeah.
BW: There. And then you came back and you went to, you went to Bournemouth.
MR: Yeah. That wasn’t near Bournemouth.
HB: Right. Because so when you first came back. Is that when you went to Braunstone?
MR: Yeah. Probably. You know, I can’t remember really very well.
HB: No. No. That’s fine.
MR: It’s a long time ago. It’s seventy years ago.
HB: Yeah.
MR: And I remember being at Braunstone Aerodrome and meeting my wife.
HB: Yeah.
MR: And then from there we went to [pause] Where did we go? I went to South Africa. To Clairwood where we were under canvas there. We had about three months there doing nothing. Not doing anything really. Then went to Potchefstroom for EFTS. From Potchefstroom to Vereeniging for SFTS. And I got my wings when I, at Vereeniging.
HB: What was, what was the SFTS?
HB: Yeah. SFP?
MR: In what context was that?
HB: Sorry. Oh sorry. I thought that was just initials. I do apologise. I thought that was just some initials you’ve given me and I hadn’t heard them before. Yeah. I’ve got Clairwood, Lyttelton, Potchefstroom.
MR: Vereeniging.
HB: Vereeniging.
MR: Then I came home.
HB: Yeah. Came back via Cape Town.
MR: Came back with my wings.
HB: Yeah.
MR: Got my wings there. Came back. Then I went on to, well, we went to Airspeed, to Chipping Norton flying Airspeed Oxfords.
HB: Right.
MR: Twin engine aircraft. And Wellingtons. And later on Wellingtons. Then Lossiemouth four engine aircraft. From Lossiemouth I went to the squadron when I picked up my crew. And then went to Lossiemouth trained up there on four engine aircraft, on Halifaxes. Then I was posted to a squadron. 51 Squadron.
HB: So your crew formed up at the Operational —
MR: No, before.
HB: Conversion Unit.
MR: Before I went to Lossiemouth.
HB: Right.
MR: I, I, you formed a crew. You went into a room with navigators and gunners and pilots all in this room and you chatted to people and eventually you got a navigator and a couple of gunners and a bomb aimer.
HB: Right.
MR: And then you went up to Lossiemouth and we all trained together on these, in Lossiemouth on these four engine, four engine Halifaxes.
HB: Yeah. So, so the crew that you ended up doing your tour with was that same crew that you formed up with?
MR: Well, apart from one young chap who came. He was, now what was he now? A flight engineer. That was it. And he was only about eighteen and we were only twenty, in early twenties but he was eighteen but somehow he seemed much younger. And he put me, on the Halifaxes, the first Halifaxes you had to go back and change the engines. You had four, four, four fuel tanks, you know in your wings and when one was empty it had to be changed to a full one on your trip. And this chap had to go and you used to say, ‘Right,’ Well, I told him to go back and change. Well, we’re on our way back from a raid and he put me on empty tanks and all engines cut out. We dived down. And he was too nervous. Ever so nervous this chap was. So, I said to him, he went back and I said, ‘This chap is no good. This flight engineer.’ And he went back to training school, this lad. But other than that I had the same crew.
HB: Right.
MR: Other than that one.
HB: Yeah.
HB: I got another flight engineer.
HB: So you went to the Conversion Unit and then you were posted to —
MR: 51 Squadron in Snaith, South Yorkshire.
HB: Yeah. I just had a quick look in your logbook and the, we are starting in —
MR: Well, I go. The first trip was I went with another crew as a pilot to see what it was like on a trip to Germany. That was the very first thing. I went with another crew to see. The very first thing and then I came back and then I flew an aircraft with my own crew.
HB: So I’ve got, I’ve got you down as 25th of October 1944 and that was with a Flight Lieutenant Ripper.
MR: Right.
HB: And you went that, well it’s in black, it’s in black ink so it looks like a daytime thing to Essen.
MR: Yeah. Well, I think —
HB: And you were second pilot as you say.
MR: Yeah. That was it. Well, I went —
HB: Yeah.
MR: Just to see what it was like, you know.
HB: Yeah.
HB: It was part of the training really.
HB: Yeah. Because, because I was interested in this. It’s one thing and again it’s something I’ve not seen before. On the 30th of October you’ve got yourself as the pilot. And then where it says second pilot or passenger you’ve got six people in there.
MR: Well, the bomb aimer used to act as second pilot. The bomb aimer.
HB: Yeah.
MR: He was a Canadian actually. And he acted, when you took off he acted as second pilot when you took off.
HB: Yeah.
MR: When you opened, when you open the four throttles he put his hand behind them to hold them firm.
HB: Yeah.
MR: Not to slide back when you took off. But —
HB: Because that was —
MR: But he wasn’t a second pilot. He was a bomb aimer. That was his job was bomb aimer.
HB: Because that was an operation.
MR: That was an operation.
HB: To Cologne. And it just says landed away.
MR: Landed away.
HB: Yeah. It says landed away.
MR: One, there was one thing where a lot of fog was on when we came back and we landed at Manston where they had a, they had three in the country, great long, a hundred, a hundred yards wide flare path. Yeah. You know, where you took off on the, on the flare path.
HB: Yeah.
MR: And a hundred yards wide, it was great and about a mile long and they had, when you had the fog they had a long on the edge of each side of the flare path. They had burners with the heat so the fog would rise you know with the heat.
HB: Right. Yeah.
MR: And that’s when you couldn’t land at your own airport.
HB: Yeah.
MR: And there was one time when I landed at Manston which was south of, I forget where it was. In Kent somewhere, I think.
HB: Yeah.
MR: At Manston. They had three around the coast for people coming back where you couldn’t land on, or if the aircraft was damaged so badly you could, you could land on this thing because it was so, it was so big. The flare path was so big. It was a hundred yards wide.
HB: Because you got I mean you’ve, you are really in to, you know November.
MR: Yeah.
HB: 1944. You’re really into a lot of operations there.
MR: Yeah.
HB: And on the 2nd of December you, you did an operation to Hagen.
MR: Yes.
HB: And all you’ve got in your logbook is mid-upper injured.
MR: Well, we got back from a raid and we’d been, we’d been hit several times but this chap was a mid-upper gunner sitting in the thing, and the hydraulic behind exploded because —
HB: Right.
MR: It had been hit you see. It exploded. This, the hydraulic thing. Cylinders of hydraulics.
HB: Yeah.
MR: Where the crew sat on your landing because we all left our stations and sat in the body of the aircraft. The crew did when we landed. And it blew the top of his head off.
HB: Oh blimey.
MR: The mid-upper gunner. And he never came, he went to, he was in hospital for twelve months but he survived. They put a plate in his head and he lived ‘til he was about seventy. I met him again two or three times after the war in 51 Squadron reunions. Yeah.
HB: What, can you remember what his name was?
MR: He was from Manchester actually.
HB: Oh right.
MR: No. I can’t. I can’t think of his name now.
HB: No. I understand. So, and yeah and then you, as I say you really did do an awful lot of operations then. You’re going through what six, seven, eight. And you’ve got January the 2nd 1945. You’re going to Ludwigshafen.
MR: Ludwigshafen. Yeah.
HB: And you’ve got in your plane you’ve got Sergeant Brown, Warrant Officer Stone, Flight Sergeant Swan, Sergeant Haywood, Sergeant Tovey and Sergeant Smith.
MR: Say them. The last three. Sergeant —
HB: The last three. Sergeant Haywood.
MR: Yes.
HB: Sergeant Tovey.
MR: Yeah.
HB: And Sergeant Smith.
MR: Well, Smith was the rear gunner. The mid-upper gunner must have been Haywood, I think.
HB: He’s the one that replaced the guy who was injured.
MR: No. The flight engineer was replaced. Not a gunner. A flight engineer.
HB: Right.
MR: Oh yes. Sorry.
HB: Yeah.
MR: You’re quite right.
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
MR: He replaced the gunner. Yeah.
HB: So I’m, you see that, that one gives the list of the names. And then from then on again we’re back to just saying crew. So —
MR: Right.
HB: So would that have been your crew then for the next —
MR: Yeah.
HB: Set of operations.
MR: That would be. Yes. Yes.
HB: Right.
HB: That would be until the end of my tour. Yes.
HB: Right. Sorry about this. The pages are a little bit on the sticky side.
MR: Yeah.
HB: And you get through to February and you’ve, you’ve again you’ve landed away after you’ve done operation in March to Chemnitz [coughs] excuse me.
MR: There’s one —
HB: In your crew here you’ve got a Flight Sergeant Brewitt.
MR: Who?
HB: Brewitt. Brewiss.
MR: He was the, must have been the flight engineer I think.
HB: Right. Right. But, but as I say you then you really do a lot of operations in a very short space of time.
MR: Yeah. Well, there was one time when we came back from a raid, had a meal and went off again.
HB: Blimey.
MR: And we slept for, the rear gunner slept for thirty six hours after we got back. And they gave me wakey wakey pills when we, yeah we went off again. We did two trips.
HB: Blimey. So —
MR: A meal in between that’s all.
HB: Tell me about the wakey wakey pills then.
MR: Well, every time you went. Before a raid you had a good meal. Egg and bacon and chips or something like that.
HB: Yeah.
MR: We had good food. I know that the country as a whole didn’t do very well for food but they fed us very well and before we walked in they always gave us a wakey wakey. I think they were benecon or I forget the name. Benedrine. But the wakey wakey pills were so when you went on a trip you were wide awake you know.
HB: Yeah.
HB: They kept you going. The wakey wakey pills we called them. And as you went in for your meal before the trip there was a girl there used to give you these two tablets.
HB: Yeah.
MR: And we called them wakey wakey pills.
HB: Did you always take them Maurice?
MR: Oh yes. You had to.
HB: Yeah.
MR: You had to have them. Keep you, I mean one time I went to Chemnitz which was near Dresden. It was an eight hour trip.
HB: Yes. Yes. A long trip that one. Eight hours thirty five.
MR: Yeah. Eight hours.
HB: Yeah.
MR: And the funny thing is coming back from one of those trips we went between Ludwigshafen and Mannheim and Ludwigshafen was full of searchlights and Mannheim was full of searchlights but if you went in between them going to Chemnitz the searchlights couldn’t catch you. On the way back I was, my navigator was, my navigator was a good one and we were on track in between these two. But on the left hand side I saw a bomber, another bomber, this was in the dark but I just saw him and he was going over Mannheim and all of the searchlights swung through and caught him. This chap.
HB: Yeah.
MR: And you couldn’t get out of this. There were about thirty or forty searchlights and they were harnessed to the ack ack and we, they used to have then what they called flaming onions. Not your normal ack ack gun. These flaming onions were like five things that rose up briefly and they were harnessed to the, the searchlights. But this chap, I saw these bombs explode on his height about thirty yards behind him and I saw another about fifteen yards and a third lot caught him and the aircraft was just blown sky high. And when, everyone inside it. Seven. There were seven, they were off track. And you were talking about the Germans. You know, they got their technical, Dresden and that. These the technical thing. They were just as good as we were in their technical ability.
HB: Yeah.
MR: The Germans were.
HB: Yeah.
MR: And they didn’t, if they could, they got the height speed and direction of the aircraft from the searchlights attached to the end, and the bombs you know the flaming onions caught you, you know they were sent up to catch you. And I was caught in searchlights over one target but fortunately the, after the bombs went there was some cloud and I went over the cloud and the searchlight lost me. I was fortunate to get away.
HB: Yeah. So in, as I say you flew an awful lot of operations in a relatively tight sort of time.
MR: Yeah.
HB: What, what, what would you think when you, when you think back, what do you think was your worst, your worst operation?
MR: Well, the one that really stuck in my mind I was, I had several bad ones but the one that really stuck in my mind I got back to the base, to Snaith in Yorkshire after a raid, and they said we’re, the fog, ‘You are diverted to Lincolnshire.’ To RAF so and so. I said to the navigator, ‘Give me course for this air base.’ And there was a bit of silence. Then he said, ‘I haven’t got the maps for it.’ So, oh dear. We’re in trouble now. So I thought, well we, I went due east towards Lincolnshire from Yorkshire and towards the North Sea and when I felt, and it was all black down below you know with the blackout and I thought now what’s going to happen now? I called up, ‘Hello Darkie. Hello Darkie.’ And somebody answered down below but that didn’t help me [laughs] And I thought now what am I going to do? Am I going to get the crew to bale out and then I’ll bale out and I’ll set the aircraft for the North Sea and when all the fuel runs out it’ll drop out in the North Sea. And as I, as I was thinking this I was, you know I was in a bit of a state really and I saw a light. One light. So I went, I flew towards this one light and as I got near it there was three lights and what it was I don’t know if you know but during the war all the aircraft, the aerodromes they had hooded, they were all hooded so you had to be in the right position to see the lights.
HB: Yeah.
MR: If you came the other way it was black because they were, there were all these lights around the aerodrome were hooded, hooded lights. And anyway, when I got to this one light I was telling you about I saw two others, and what it was it was a ring of light around the aerodrome. They put their lights on for me, this aerodrome. It wasn’t the one I was supposed to be [laughs] but it was one near there. So I followed the lights around the aerodrome and they took me down to the flare path and I landed and we were okay.
HB: Yeah.
MR: But it was, it was a terrible, because you’re in a situation where you don’t know what to, you don’t know what to do really. I mean the obvious thing was to bale out and send the aircraft in the North Sea.
HB: Yeah.
MR: But it was a bit drastic. But I happened to see this one light and having seen this one light I saw the others and then I saw the, the circle of lights around the aerodrome and they took me onto the flare path.
HB: Yeah.
MR: And we landed.
HB: So you obviously, you obviously as you say you’d had a bit of a rough going over on that one and, and —
MR: Well, you know I had one trip when I had a two thousand bomb wouldn’t, wouldn’t release in the body, or the incendiary and the wheel went off but this this two thousand pound bomb wouldn’t go. So I was a bit worried about it because I tried to shake it off over the North Sea coming back but it wouldn’t go. So I had to land with it. And I thought now landing it might set it off. I told them when I, but fortunately we had a very good, good, in fact the crew said it’s the best landing I’d ever done [laughs]
HB: I think there was an incentive there.
MR: A two thousand pound bomb on board on landing. It didn’t go off.
HB: So so you’d got that bomb hung up and you said you tried to shake it off.
HB: Yeah.
HB: How did, how would you have done that Maurice?
MR: Well, just shake the aircraft. You know. With the wheel. Just shake it. You know, shake the aircraft and let it go. But it didn’t go.
HB: So whose job was it to take the bomb off?
MR: The armoury when we got back. The armoury took it off. The ground staff. Armourers.
HB: Yeah.
MR: And it, it must have got tied up somehow. I don’t know. I don’t. I didn’t ask.
HB: I’ll tell you one of the things you mentioned earlier on Maurice was you said about coming in to land.
MR: Yes.
HB: When the crew gathered in —
MR: In the centre of the aircraft.
HB: In the centre of the aircraft.
MR: Yes.
HB: Would that be where the main spar went through on the Halifax?
MR: Well, the main spar was just behind the pilot.
HB: Yeah.
MR: And the two pilot’s seats. Then, then the spar, the main spar. Then there was a seat on, a seat for three or four on this side and a seat for three or four on that side. And then the door to get out of it was a bit farther down and a chemical toilet somewhere.
HB: Yeah.
MR: You know.
HB: So, so obviously I’m presuming that at some stage you’re fully in position in the aircraft. Everybody is in the right place.
MR: Yeah. Yes.
HB: And at some stage you’ve got to decide that it’s safe for the rear gunner and the mid-upper gunner to leave their positions. When would you —
MR: We were home. We’re home now. We’re going around the, around the perimeter.
HB: So it’s, so it’s as you were doing your circuit to land that you would do that. Yeah.
MR: Something like that, yeah. I’d tell them, alright we’ll be landing in about ten minutes or five minutes or something like that.
HB: Yeah.
MR: Will you, now you can go. I’d instruct the crew to go and sit down.
HB: Right.
MR: As we landed. Yeah.
HB: And that was a safety thing I presume.
MR: Well, it was a thing we had to do. We were told that’s what and, yes.
HB: Yeah. Yeah, so —
MR: You wouldn’t want the rear gunner sitting in the rear, when you landed, would you?
HB: No. No. No. So you, you’re doing your operations. You’re based out at Snaith.
MR: Yeah.
HB: In Yorkshire.
MR: Yeah.
HB: Because you weren’t far from Goole.
MR: Well, Goole had got the lake. That was, Goole was the, that was a big lake there near Goole and that was a very good spot to follow you to get back to.
HB: Oh right. Yeah. As a obviously as a sighting thing.
MR: Yes.
HB: Yeah. So, what, I mean you’d met your wife or your future wife some time ago so, what was your social life like when you were on, on at Snaith? Did you have much a social life?
MR: No. We had, we had what they called a stand down, and you had to leave. You could, when you had a stand down you could leave the aerodrome until midnight.
HB: Yeah.
MR: And you would probably get a lorry or something to take you in to Pontefract which was nearest big town. We used to go and I think we had two. Two stand downs in my nine months I was operating. Only two. Other than those two we were stuck in and when there was a raid on, because my wife used to, she was in Maidstone in Kent. She used to ring up actually. She wasn’t my wife then but she used to ring. Yes, was she? I don’t know. Anyway. She used to ring up and to see if I was alright you know. And if, if she couldn’t get through she knew there was a raid on because when there was a raid on they, they stopped all the communication with the outside world. The station did.
HB: Right.
MR: The bomber station. And then she’d ring the next day and when we’d, to see if I was alright. If I’d got back alright. You know.
HB: So, it was quite a bit of a long distance relationship then.
MR: Oh, yeah. Well in —
HB: Yeah.
MR: Mind you she was in the ATS for two years.
HB: Yeah.
MR: She was called up actually. She had a choice of either munitions or the ATS because the WAAF and the WRNS were full and so she only had the ATS to go in.
HB: Right.
MR: So she went in the ATS.
HB: Yeah.
MR: Rather than go in munitions. Yeah.
HB: Yeah. So you, so you’re coming towards the end of your tour.
MR: Yes.
HB: We know you’d lost a flight engineer.
MR: Yes.
HB: Which is probably understandable from what you’ve described. You’ve lost a mid-upper gunner.
MR: Yes.
HB: So the bulk of the crew were still there towards the end of your tour.
MR: Oh yes.
HB: So how, how close had you become by then?
MR: Well, fairly close but then of course like many things in the RAF you, I go to 10 Squadron on my own and I pick up another crew.
HB: Yeah.
MR: Of four.
HB: Yeah.
HB: Different people, you know. And the RAF is like that. You don’t, it’s not like the Army where you’re with them all the time and you’ve lost them. They’ve gone. Although strangely enough I went out to, I think it was India. I met my navigator. He’d been posted to a place in, in India too as a navigator. Teaching you know. Something like that.
HB: Yeah.
MR: Yeah.
HB: So that was, that was obviously that was the follow on question Maurice.
MR: Yes.
HB: Was did you manage to keep in contact with all of them?
MR: Well, after the war the navigator was a member of the 51 Squadron Association.
HB: Yeah.
MR: And I and I joined it too so we met there two or three times with our wives. We came to dances and all that but now of course when, I three or four years ago I resigned from it because all the people were new. I didn’t know. They were all young people.
HB: Yeah.
MR: All the, all the old people that started this Association in 1944, this 51 Squadron Association you know for ex-people and they were all wartime people and we used to chat and all that. But now, later on, they’d all, they’d all died and — [laughs]
HB: Yeah.
HB: There was no point so I resigned from it.
HB: Yeah. It’s sad. So, so you’ve had your contact with your navigator. You’ve just mentioned there you then moved from 51 Squadron to 10 Squadron.
MR: Yes.
HB: But before you actually went there and this intrigues me because again it’s something I’ve not seen before. In May 1945 you flew two, four, six, eight, ten. You flew twelve operations in May from the 13th to the 21st and all it says is bomb disposal.
MR: Yes. Well, what happened we used, we went out and dropped bombs, the bombs that we had in the North Sea. The war had finished so we spent a lot of time carrying bombs out to the North Sea and dropping them in the water. In the North Sea. Bombs that they didn’t want.
HB: Right. And that was, was that just from where you were or did you have to go and sort of pick them up?
MR: No. Driffield or somewhere like that.
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
MR: I was posted to, I think it was Driffield.
HB: Yeah. And then as I say you moved, you moved across to 10 squadron at Melbourne in Yorkshire.
MR: Yeah.
HB: And you were still, you were then flying. You changed in the June ’45.
MR: Yeah.
HB: To the Dakota.
MR: Yeah.
HB: Did you have, did you have to do a conversion course?
MR: No. I—
HB: Or was it just a case —
MR: Well, I went down to Witney. No. I didn’t have a conversion course. Only the fact that this itself was a conversion course flying these Dakotas. We just got in the aircraft and flew them. Twin engines aircraft. They were ever so easy to fly and out of the four engine bombers they were very easy, the Dakotas were to fly. Twin engine little, they weren’t very powerful but they were a very, very good aircraft and the brakes were much better. Brakes, than on the old four engine bombers.
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
MR: And we were, we were flying paratroops, and towing gliders. We were training, we were all training, both the paratroopers and we were training for going out to the Far East, you know.
HB: Yeah. Yeah. You mentioned that to me before we started the interview about going out to the Far East because you know it’s, we’ve got to September.
MR: Well, the war finished I think very soon after.
HB: Yeah.
MR: The Far East war.
HB: Yeah. But you did actually get out to —
MR: I went out there because, we went there because it was all laid on to help the 14th Army but they’d driven the Japs out and we spent most of our time, well first of all we carrying troops back home to Karachi where they we were picked home and taken home on demob. Then we, then we all went to [unclear] where we dropped rice. Free drops. We dived down. They made a dropping zone with the aircraft and we dived down on a free drop. Couldn’t put them in parachutes because they might go into the ravines you see. So we had to, down to about fifty feet. The crew threw the half-filled bags of rice out of the aircraft then we, when they’d gone we had to climb. I had to climb like mad to avoid the peaks around. And we lost three aircraft actually the squadron did on that.
HB: Yeah.
MR: Because, you know it could be a bit dangerous really.
HB: So you went down to how, how low?
MR: To where?
HB: How low were you when you were dropping them? Fifty feet?
MR: Yeah. Well, they had, the crew had to drop them on a DZ. Dropping zone.
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
MR: Throw them out. Yeah. Throw them out because we couldn’t, they couldn’t go in parachutes because there was ravines, deep ravines and they’d never get them.
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
MR: So we had what we called a free drop. We had to dive down, the crew threw out the bags of rice and then we’d, when they’d thrown them all out we’d climb like mad to avoid, and go back.
HB: Yeah.
MR: Turn around and climb. But you couldn’t, couldn’t turn around because of the peaks on either side. We had to go over the top and turn. They were sixteen thousand feet high these peaks.
HB: Yeah.
MR: In the Himalayas.
HB: And as a pilot was it, was it a difficult flying experience?
MR: Well, that was but that was only six weeks dropping that rice. But other than that it was quite an easy job. It was just taking troops back to, well, we picked them up from the east, Madras and at an aerodrome called Arkonham. Flew across to Poona and then took them up to Karachi in the north and they were picked up in Karachi by some other aircraft and taken home.
HB: Yeah. And you, and you were doing that all the way through until you ended up in Burma.
MR: Well, yes and when I got back. When we finished in Burma I went back to Poona [pause] and what happened then? Oh, I was on a troop ship. My demob came up fairly soon but they, I had to fly an aircraft back. A lease lend. On a lease lend the Americans in Munich. So, a little twin, a lovely little aircraft. They were used as like taxies for the important people in India and that you know. They didn’t, they didn’t go by rail and that. These marshals and generals and people like that. So they had these aircraft the Americans supplied. Then they had to go back to the Americans after the war in Munich. And I flew an aircraft across India, across the Indian Ocean, up the Persian Gulf and then across, across the Med and across to Marseilles and then to Paris. Then Paris to London to Munich. And I got in there, I think I’ve got it somewhere, one Dakota one aircraft, you know signed for by an American staff sergeant. One aircraft delivered.
HB: So, then that would have been, that would have been May 1946.
MR: Yes.
HB: Was that the Beechcraft?
MR: That’s right. Beech.
HB: It was a Beechcraft.
MR: I can remember the aircraft.
HB: Yeah.
MR: It was a Beechcraft.
HB: Yeah.
MR: A little twin engine, twin engine Beechcraft. A lovely aircraft.
HB: I can just, just about read it. It’s the one, it’s the last page.
MR: All electric. The undercarriage, you just put a switch up and the undercarriage came up. You didn’t have to put a lever down or anything like you did in the old Halifaxes.
HB: Yeah.
MR: You just switched up. Knocked this switch up and the undercarriage came up.
HB: Yeah. Because it, because it’s on this page here and it’s the only page you’ve done in pencil and it’s just starting to fade a little bit.
MR: Yeah. When I, and it’s not in the logbook but this trip I made from, from, I went up to north west India and flew this Beechcraft home. Well, I didn’t fly it home. I flew it to Munich. Not in. It’s not in there.
HB: Oh no. It’s in here.
MR: What? All the trip?
HB: It went, you went from Chopta.
MR: Where?
HB: Chopta to Bahrain. Bahrain to Kuwait. Kuwait to Haifa. Haifa to Cairo. Cairo to Tel Aviv.
MR: That’s it. Yeah. That’s it.
HB: Tel Aviv to Castel something.
MR: Castel Benito.
HB: Castel Benito. Then you went to —
MR: Marseilles.
HB: Marseilles.
MR: It’s there is it? Oh.
HB: Paris, Munich.
MR: That’s it. Yeah.
HB: And you finished at Bovington [laughs]
MR: Well, my mate flew me back home to Bovington for —
HB: Yeah.
HB: I had my demob there. I got a suit from them.
HB: From the Americans?
MR: No. it was in this country.
HB: Oh [laughs] Yeah. I was joking Maurice.
MR: When I was, when I was demobbed.
HB: Yeah. It’s, no it’s, now that’s interesting because it’s, a Beechcraft is quite a small aircraft.
MR: Oh yes. Well, it was I say it was used as a taxi.
HB: Yeah. Yeah. Flying backwards and forwards in that.
MR: There were only about four seats in it. Behind the pilot was a, there was no dividing thing you know. Just four seats behind you when you flew it.
HB: Yeah.
MR: Four or six. I forget now whether it was four or six seats for people to sit there.
HB: Yeah.
MR: It was a tad silly really but the Americans it was on a lease lend and they had to go back to the Americans when the war finished.
HB: Now, when I spoke to you to arrange the interview and having spoken to your son.
MR: Yes.
HB: You’ve sort of skated over something that happened to you involving being torpedoed.
MR: Oh, that was, that was in, yes, when I left Canada to come back I came back, it was in January. When I came back there was, there was three troopships and two destroyers in the North Atlantic, and I think there was someone in the Canadian customs who was a German sympathiser and he was in touch with the U-boats. So when we left this Halifax place to come with these troopships with these two destroyers the U-boats waited for us. And the first night out we had I don’t know how many alarms we had with U-boats. And then we, a bit later on apparently one of the torpedoes was heading straight for a troop ship, I’m talking about five thousand troops on board, heading for this troop ship and a Dutch destroyer sailed in the way of it. The captain, he arranged for the destroyer to sail in the path and the torpedo blew up the destroyer and they had two survivors. And then the one, the one destroyer was circling round and round and round. And when they had [pause] when we got back to Liverpool they had a collection for the crew which is most unusual in wartime. Having a collection because they were so grateful to this destroyer. You know looked after them so well.
HB: Yeah.
MR: The crew.
HB: It’s sad. It’s sad losing all those guys.
MR: You don’t hear about these things do you really? Generally.
HB: Well, it’s because people like you Maurice don’t talk about them.
MR: Yes.
HB: Or haven’t talked about them until now.
MR: Yeah.
HB: Yeah. I mean you’re right, you know a collection for a crew of a destroyer, you know.
MR: And, and that, it could be quite a bit of money. All these troops. They weren’t just troopships. There were important people on board too you know.
HB: Yeah.
MR: People who were going home to England. Important people who travelled. I don’t know.
HB: Yeah. Yeah. So, we’ve, we’ve got you back to Bovington.
MR: Yes.
HB: You got married in 1945.
MR: Oh yes.
HB: So that would have been before you went out to India.
MR: Before I went to India. Yeah.
HB: Yeah.
MR: Yeah. I had one week’s leave [laughs] I got married. One week’s leave and then I was away for nearly twelve months in India and Burma.
HB: That’s, now, that is a long distance relationship.
MR: [laughs] Yeah. The only communication we had were by, I used to write her letters and I think there’s still some that’s upstairs.
HB: Yes.
MR: I must, I must get rid of those too. Those letters. I don’t want other people reading them.
HB: Well [laughs] but so you’ve, you’ve come back. You’ve gone to Bovington.
MR: Yeah.
HB: To be demobbed.
MR: Right.
HB: And ⸻
MR: I’ve got to get myself a job after.
HB: Yeah.
MR: Had a fortnight’s leave and then I’d got to find a job. I went to Jones and Shipman.
HB: Which is an engineering company.
MR: Yes. It is.
HB: In Leicester.
MR: It was.
HB: Or was.
MR: It’s gone now.
HB: Yeah. And what did, what sort of engineering did you do there, Maurice?
MR: I wasn’t an engineer. I was on the commercial side and I only had three years with Jones and Shipman. Then I went to Perry Parkers, and they were [laughs] they were a family firm. I was on exports there. Commercial again. Then I went to Richard’s and I spent thirty years with Richard’s and I retired from Richard’s.
HB: And what did Richard’s do?
MR: Well, they were structural. They were structural engineers. They used to have these structures with, you know RSJs and beams and things, and also they had a foundry too. What they called meehanite foundry. It was like a superior cast iron. Cast iron thing they made in the foundry.
HB: Yeah. And you were there for thirty years.
MR: Yeah. I was commercial manager actually.
HB: Yeah. So —
MR: All the buying and all the commercial side.
HB: Yeah. When, when, when you look back now you know not having really talked much about the war but you’re looking back now from being one hundred years old.
MR: Yeah.
HB: What, what do you think you took into your life from your wartime experience?
MR: Oh well, it made a man of me actually I think. I was only a boy when I went in and I had led a fairly sheltered, although not a, we weren’t, we weren’t particularly wealthy. We were, well we were poor really in Manchester but it, it made me a leader. It did me a lot of good really being in the RAF. In the fact, that it built my character I think to not worry about, it doesn’t bother me about people or anything really. I wasn’t, I wasn’t afraid of dying. I didn’t want to get wounded but I was never afraid of dying, not even on trips. I wasn’t scared of going on trips.
HB: Right.
MR: I don’t know why that was. I never felt frightened at all because I didn’t, it didn’t worry me if I got killed really before, that was before I was married of course.
HB: Yes. Yes. Of course. And, and, and that experience obviously took you through. You mention leadership.
MR: Yeah.
HB: And, and that sort of brings you back to how close you worked with your crew.
MR: Yeah.
HB: And you led them and you took that forward but with your crew as a group of men together do you think that worked for them as well? Having you as the pilot.
MR: Well, it could do but you were the boss actually. There was no question. Whatever you said went. If you said, ‘Bale out.’ They’d bale out. Or anything, you know. You, you were like a captain of a ship really, I suppose. Your word was law and there was no, they never questioned it. I remember coming back from a raid once and the rear gunner said, ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘I think there’s a fighter. I can’t, can’t quite see it.’ So he said, ‘I’m not sure.’ So I did a corkscrew you see and he said, ‘Oh you’re alright. No. Don’t worry. Don’t get bloody mad.’ Something like that. I said, ‘Who the bloody hell are you talking to?’ [laughs] And of course he shut up then.
HB: Yeah.
MR: But that’s just an instance of your life you know.
HB: Yeah. I can, yeah I can understand that. I can understand that. So you marry.
MR: When I finished my tour I got married.
HB: You married Sylvia.
MR: Had a week’s leave and then to —
HB: Yeah.
MR: I went to India.
HB: And you set up home here in Leicester.
MR: Well, yeah. I lived in Braunstone actually for, when my, there was houses being built. Twelve hundred pound they were. Houses being built, two up and two down and I had one of those in, just off Braunstone Lane and I lived there for about two years. And then I, in this area, this is in 1952 I think I bought this plot where the house is built. I had an architect and we built the house. We built this house and I’ve lived here for sixty odd years. My wife and I have had sixty years in this house. She’s now in Kirby House.
HB: Yeah.
MR: Care home. But we had sixty, and I’ve lived here for sixty eight, excuse me sixty eight years. And the house was built with the architect and I mean things like the picture window there and the hatch was ours. You know. We wanted that.
HB: Yes.
MR: Sylvia and I. And he, you know was a good architect. All his, every window in the house looks out on the back garden. Three bedrooms. Three bedroom windows. And the architect was very good.
HB: Yeah. That’s lovely.
MR: And we’ve liked this house. We’ve always been very happy in it.
HB: Yeah. Well, we’ve sort of naturally come to an end —
MR: Right.
HB: Of the interview, Maurice and I thank you.
MR: Well, thank you for coming any way.
HB: Well, it’s, and I don’t say this lightly it’s, it’s a privilege really to be able to get you to tell your story and to have your story recorded.
MR: Yeah.
HB: And I thank you for that and I’m sure in the future when people look in to what Bomber Command did in years to come somewhere in there, there will be this little comment from —
MR: Yeah.
HB: From Maurice Roberts.
MR: Well that’s nice to know, you know.
HB: Yes.
MR: And I’ve got this this thing. This aircrew medal plus.
HB: Yeah.
MR: That David Cameron, well it would be, and bar that’s it.
HB: The clasp. Yeah.
MR: The aircrew. And I’ve also got the medal from the French government. The Legion d’Honneur.
HB: Yeah.
MR: Have you seen that?
HB: No. What, what I’ll do now is I will terminate the interview if I may —
MR: Yes.
HB: And we’ll go on to the other bits, because there’s bits of paperwork.
MR: Right.
HB: So, thank you again Maurice.
MR: Ok.
HB: And we’ll just stop the interview.
MR: Right.
HB: I normally say the time but I can’t see the time. So, it’s twelve something I think. Oh dear.
MR: That’s not going that clock. The time. Look at my watch. That’s the correct time.
HB: It’s ten minutes past twelve.
MR: Right.
HB: Thank you.



Harry Bartlett, “Interview with Maurice Roberts,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed March 5, 2024,

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